The Lansing Journal’s story is one of necessity and community

By Marlene Cook

LANSING, Ill. (April 22, 2022) – The original Lansing Journal newspaper was born out of necessity and survival. The year was 1931, and the Great Depression was changing lives. There were no jobs. Banks were closing. Families were forced to rely on the government for public aid.

Carl Wulfing wasn’t one for charity. He said, “Like countless others, we too lost everything. But if everyone goes on relief, there won’t be any government. But I had to make a living.”

So with true grit and faith in God, Carl and his wife Olive clung to the philosophy that “one should start where he is and make something of what he has.” They firmly believed that in America success is an outcome of work, confidence, and a willingness to give up the non-essentials.

The Journal’s first office

Wulfing had some experience in the printing industry. During high school he worked half days for his brother who owned a print shop. After graduation he worked in the steel mills in Gary and as a house builder until those kind of jobs came to a halt. He went back to printing and worked in Gary for a couple of years until that job too fell to the Depression.

Wulfing decided on the only thing left to do — he started his own business. With only one typewriter in his inventory and a small rented office, on July 1, 1931, he published the first edition of the Lansing Journal. In the meantime, he continued working for a Hobart newspaper where they allowed him to use their presses to print his paper.

His rented office was located at 3325 Ridge Road in a building with a lot of history in Lansing. It was once the original St. John’s Lutheran School building and had been moved in 1916 from the east side of Wentworth Avenue, south of Ridge, over the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, and set down at 3325 Ridge. The same building also had once housed Lansing’s first theater. A second story was removed, and it is now Jack’s Sports Bar & Grill.

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This building was moved from Wentworth Avenue, over the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks, and onto Ridge Road, where it is now known as Jack’s Sports Pub and Eatery. In 1931 this building housed the first offices of the original Lansing Journal. (Photo courtesy of the Lansing Historical Society)
newspaper office
When Lansing Historian Paul Schultz leads History Walks down Ridge Road, he often stops at Jack’s and tapes a photocopied picture of the original building on the window while sharing the history of the building. Schultz recalls that when it was being remodeled into Jack’s, the workers found the old schoolhouse blackboards still in the walls of the building. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Sometime along the way, Wulfing quit the Hobart paper and devoted full-time effort to his newspaper business in Lansing. He gained a printing press and printed the Journal under the name of Lansing Printing Company. Rumor has it that parts of the old printing press remain in the basement of Jack’s.

Family business

At first Wulfing worked alone, gathering and editing the news by day and selling advertising by night. But then his wife Olive joined him, and the two worked shoulder-to-shoulder. Olive eventually took over the news-gathering and editing chores while Carl focused on the business side of things.

The masthead advertised, “The only paper in Lansing.” A prior newspaper, probably the Lansing Herald, did not thrive. Wulfing had installed the lino-type for the Herald and worked there a few weeks.

In 1949, the Wulfings moved the business from Ridge Road to Lake and William Street. The announcement of the move appeared in the February 10 issue of the Lansing Journal: “The Journal and its parent, the Lansing Printing Company, have moved lock, stock and barrel and printing presses into new spacious quarters. After the new Lansing Printing Company building looks like the architect’s plans say it should look, and the decorators are through dragging canvasses across our desks, there may be some kind of open house for the public to get an official look at the new look in print shops.” They continued to grow, and what was once a one-man show became a staff of 20.

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The original Lansing Journal was housed at Lake and William Street from 1949 until 1983 when the Journal merged with the Daily Calumet. (Photo provided)

Jack Wiers, who lived next door, recalled how he and the publisher’s son would climb on giant spools of paper stacked inside the loading door. He said, “We were allowed to build ‘forts’ on the back parking lot with big boxes and spare wood. There were nails and wood everywhere, and I remember one of us stepped on a nail that required a visit to the doctor — probably Dr. Van Drunen, the town doctor. Then, quickly, all the debris was removed and no more playing next door at the Lansing Journal.”

Involved in the community

In addition to long hours at the plant, the Wulfings were active in civic projects. Mr. Wolfing was the founder of the Lansing Lions Club and was a member of Cook County Suburban Publishers. Mrs. Wulfing was awarded a lifetime membership in the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and was also a member of the National Federation of Press Women. She founded the Lansing Woman’s Club and became its first president. She was included in Who’s Who in Chicago and Illinois in 1945 and in four volumes of Who’s Who in the Midwest.

Moving on

By 1960, the Wulfings were ready to retire and pursue all the things they couldn’t do while running the newspaper. They sold the Lansing Journal to the Calumet Publishing Company who would operate from the same building on Lake and William and continue the five editions without interruption. They also promised that the present advertising and editorial staffs would be retained.

The paper continued to operate as the Lansing Journal until February 24, 1970, when the name was changed to The Sun-Journal. On October 24, 1983, the Sun Journal merged with the Daily Calumet. In addition to becoming a daily paper, it now offered international, national, state, and regional news while trying to keep an emphasis on the local areas.

Wikipedia’s article on the Daily Calumet provides this background, “In approximately 1980, The Daily Calumet was sold by its owners, Panax Publishing Co., to a British-owned group from Liverpool. After several years, the British group sold the paper to Pulitzer, which owned The Daily Southtown newspaper which served Chicago’s Southwest Side. After about two years of operation by Pulitzer, The Daily Calumet nameplate was phased out and replaced by The Daily Southtown, which opened a bureau in a building owned by The Daily Calumet in south suburban Lansing, Ill. at 18127 William St. The office was closed and The Daily Southtown effectively withdrew from the southeastern Chicago market when its product failed to catch on with the local population.” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daily_Calumet, quoted on 4/11/2022)

The Wikipedia article also mentions that the Lansing building at Lake and William “was sold, was razed, and is now the site of a medical building.”

Moving forward

One of the few physical remnants of the original Lansing Journal is a wooden “Lansing News Agency” sign that once hung on an exterior wall of the building at Lake and William Street. The Lansing News Agency was a separate organization from the Lansing Journal. Tom Welch, who worked there from 1985–1988, remembers, “They distributed the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times in Lansing, Lynnwood, and Sauk Village. I assembled the sections of the Sun-Times and the Tribune. Did delivery to stores and home delivery of both papers.”

That sign has found a new home with the new Lansing Journal. Many things about the news business today are different from how Carl and Olive Wolfing served their community, but the core remains the same — accurate information, daily distribution, local focus, and reliance on community support.

Managing Editor Josh Bootsma (left) and Publisher Melanie Jongsma provide many of the same services for the Lansing community that the Wulfings did from 1931 through 1960. Publishing and delivery depends on pixels rather than presses, but the local focus remains at the heart of what they do.

The Journal team is smaller now, but just as dedicated. A group of freelance reporters covers a variety of local news, and Managing Editor Josh Bootsma coordinates content while also contributing his own articles. There is no building, and there are no presses, but the Journal provides more than 100 stories each month that are read by thousands of subscribers and website visitors.

Publisher Melanie Jongsma hopes this iteration of The Lansing Journal will be around until she too is ready to retire, and even beyond that. The support of readers will make it so.

Speaking of support

A community newspaper depends on community support. The Lansing Journal invites readers to support local journalism at any level you are able. (Monthly gifts are especially helpful, so we encourage you to keep that “monthly” box checked!)

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Related

In 2021 The Lansing Journal published a series of columns written by Jon Huisman, who worked for the Wulfings at the original Lansing Journal. Those articles include more details about day-to-day operations at the building on Lake and William. The series was titled “From the files of Jon Huisman” and comprised these columns:

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